Dementia can be caused by a number of different conditions; it is a symptom of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, frontotemporal dementia or corticobasal degeneration. The term "dementia" describes a progressive, degenerative decline in cognitive function that gradually destroys memory and the ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. While it often includes memory loss, memory loss by itself does not mean that a person has dementia. Dementia affects 17–25 million people worldwide.
Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia or Huntington's disease can cause dementia symptoms. The diseases are defined by a progressive loss of brain structure or function leading to a range of symptoms such as memory loss, personality change, difficulty walking and using the body, or problems with language. In many of these diseases, the underlying cause of this progressive destruction is the buildup of abnormal and misfolded proteins in the brain.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) belongs to a family of diseases called "prion disease" [pree-ahn] caused by abnormal "prions", microscopic infectious agents made of proteins. Prions cause a number of diseases in a variety of mammals, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow disease") in cattle and scrapie in sheep. In the United States, about 300 people each year are affected by CJD.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a progressive, degenerative brain disease that gradually destroys the ability to behave appropriately, empathize with others, learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. In people under age 60, FTD is the most common cause of dementia and affects as many people as Alzheimer's disease in the 45-64 age group. There are several forms of the disease that lead to slightly different behavioral, language and/or motor symptoms.
At the Memory and Aging Center, we look for opportunities to train the next generation of clinicians and scientists and continuing the education of those who are already practicing.
Managing medications for patients with dementia can be complicated. As a general rule, we suggest exploring as many non-drug interventions as possible before turning to medications. If medications are necessary, then there are some guidelines to consider when considering which ones to use, or avoid, and why.
The risk of cognitive decline related to surgery and anesthesia continues to be debated in the scientific literature.
The study of neuroscience is the study of human nature. In the course of diagnosing, treating and observing people affected by neurodegenerative disease, as well as those remain healthy, we have learned so much about how the brain interprets the environment and creates our own unique experience in this lifetime. Through the direct study of memory, executive function, speech and language, creativity, behavior and movement, we learn about both people and the diseases that impact them.